It’s a project that has lasted Nick Cook seven years. However, after dreaming, writing, and securing that elusive publishing deal, he is now the proud author of debut novel Cloud Riders. Take your classic action-adventure story, throw in some fantasy, a few dozen airships, and finish with a dash of a steampunk vibe. And that’s still not even the half of it.
There’s a steadily growing interest in Cloud Riders, and after a first reading it’s not hard to see why. Set in Oklahoma, on the notorious ‘Tornado Alley’, teenager Dom is faced with the death of his storm chasing father, the imminent collapse of the family business, and the appearance of strangers with French accents (and they don’t seem to speak much French). Fast-paced and undeniably different, Cloud Riders is a unique new offering of fiction. The target readership of the book is described by sellers as primarily teenagers and young adults. It’s a testament to the book that Cook also has “fans in their forties”, a fact I can practically hear him grinning about on the other end of the phone.
The idea behind Cloud Riders sounds somewhat like an old novelist’s cliché, the ‘it-was-all-a-dream’ scenario. People from Stephanie Meyer to Stephen King have all claimed the same source of inspiration for their bestsellers. Cook though doesn’t seem to take the matter too seriously, but thanks whatever triggered it. With a slight laugh, he assures me that “it was actually a dream. This airship appeared, and there were two of them battling, somewhere over Oxfordshire.” On waking he decided it was “just crazy”, until something sparked, and had him hooked on a story of airships and adventure.
His route into authorship began with a manuscript agency, to hiring an agent, to securing a publishing deal. “One very memorable morning” after two years of on-and-off deals, the call finally came through; Cloud Riders had been picked up by publishing house Three Hares. Now it’s all about the promotion. “If nobody knows about it it’s not going to sell […] it’s a never-ending process in a way.” Since Cloud Riders’ release in May, Cook has been eagerly promoting his book, as well as going into schools to do workshops. With him he carries his newest purchase; a tornado generator. “All the kids and adults – they want to touch the tornado,” he laughs. Unfortunately, I’m informed it feels like a bit of fog on your hand. Still, it seems a pretty cool thing to own and be able to claim is for ‘work’.
Of becoming a fully-fledged author, after a long career in the arts and game industry, Cook has no regrets and no doubts that this is the right path. “I had an opportunity to pursue my dream, and it’s always been to write.” Not that it’s been an easy or a speedy process. “There’s one word for it – tenacity. It’s about never giving up […] don’t chase the market, don’t chase an audience.” Admitting “I know a lot of authors who slightly wince about their first book”, Cook makes clear his determination to write something completely for himself, without letting success or popular trends cloud his judgment. “I have a lovely phrase for this: a book or the characters particularly will tell you where they want to go […] it’s book whispering.”
Soon to follow Cloud Riders is the follow up, Breaking Storm. Creating a whole new fantasy world can be as difficult as writing the story itself as Cook can attest to, which is why Cloud Riders is brimming with “some very high concept ideas”. “I’m so proud of that book” he tells me earnestly, but it’s the second book in the trilogy – now that all the groundwork has been established – that has allowed Cook to “let rip” with his imagination. In his opinion Breaking Storm is set to be “even better than the first book […] I can’t wait to see the reaction too”.
There’s a definite sense of excitement when I inquire about a research trip to Iceland. Talk of writing gives way for a moment to someone with a huge second passion, this time for science. “It’s an extraordinary country, so new born geologically speaking […] sort of fresh out of the oven […] you see volcanoes everywhere, every other mountain.” If we can assume that volcanoes are a big part of the landscape for Breaking Storm, Cook also reveals another source of inspiration for book two’s backdrop. “[I] went to see the Northern Lights, and what happened? – Snow storms and blizzards!” If not the most successful view, still a phenomena that Cook confirms “inspired all sorts of ideas”.
Cook certainly isn’t wasting any time. The final edit of Breaking Storm is currently being worked on, with a potential release date of this November. Simultaneously he’s “working on book three right now, it’s going really well as well”. And if all that wasn’t enough to keep a new author busy, a plan for several more books will certainly do it. It turns out that the trilogy currently underway – beginning with Cloud Riders – is only one of a series of three linked trilogies. There’s a hint at a “very very big story arch lurking beneath the surface” but Cook refuses to go into any more detail than that.
The best news is that one of these trilogies will be set in Oxford, which will be the third and final instalment of the complete series. “Oxford as a place to be is an incredibly magic place, if you let it be […] it’s an inspirational place to live and work.” There are of course natural parallels to be drawn to Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which also made great use of the city. That is inevitable, Cook does acknowledge, but while the basic principle of a parallel Oxford is shared, that’s where the similarities end. It’s promised to be a “very different Oxford: no spoilers! […] The way the story naturally flows, it would be a crime not to set it in Oxford!”
As the interview nears a close, there is one last question I have to know the answer to. Just like main character Dom of Cloud Riders, is Cook tempted to try storm chasing himself? “Very […] I’d love to go on a storm chase. I’m really quite plugged in to the storm chasing community.” There’s also a dangerous side to the sport to consider too. The original launch of the book had to be delayed due to twisters hitting sections of the South and Midwest of America earlier this year. Balancing the novel’s thrill seeking edge, Cook has been doing what he describes as “squaring the circle by actually doing PR for storm chasers”. For example his blog features an interview with a chaser, who outlines the danger and losses suffered at the hands of severe storms. Cook agrees that “storm chasing forms a key cornerstone of the book” but also asserts that “it’s only a glimpse of what the story’s about, it’s not the main thrust of the book”.
Cook has obviously no intention of stopping – or taking a break – from being a full-time author anytime soon. “It doesn’t stop with the book,” he tells me when I ask about his various side projects. Alongside the writing, Cook has taken world-building to a whole new level for readers. “Too rich an idea to hold down with just one book”, not only has the story become a trio of trilogies, there’s extra material on the internet to explore. “I’ve been making quotes up for characters and airships,” he explains, as well as getting ready to produce a series of sketches which will be released via his Twitter feed one per day. There’s also a blog of a main character’s life leading up to the events of Cloud Riders, plus three short ‘book trailers’.
Moreover there’s the future of the story. “A lot of people say this has got to be a film, [it’s] so visual.” Cook agrees with this as an “obvious direction” but concedes such a hope as “way out of my hands”. Any budding directors reading this, take note.
Immersed in the world of his novels, Cook manages to sum up all the enthusiasm and creation his leap into writing has brought into a single sentence. “I see the world as the author of Cloud Riders,” he says simply. By the end of the interview, he confirms that his mind is for the foreseeable future floating in the clouds. “They [the airships] fly around in my head,” he laughs.
Cloud Riders by Nick Cook is out now, published by Three Hares, priced £8.50